Cold temperatures and snow can reduce the drone’s flying time by more than half as Warren Fire Department Training Chief Jeff Middleton gives a demonstration on Jan. 30.

Cold temperatures and snow can reduce the drone’s flying time by more than half as Warren Fire Department Training Chief Jeff Middleton gives a demonstration on Jan. 30.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

‘Superior’ drone tech coming to the Warren Fire Department

By: Gena Johnson | Warren Weekly | Published February 6, 2024


WARREN — On Jan. 23, the Warren City Council unanimously approved the Warren Fire Department’s $81,317 purchase of four new drones.

“The new drones will have an even better infrared camera on them to spot heat that can differentiate life in a human body or a deceased body,” said Warren Fire Department Commissioner Wilburt “Skip” McAdams. “The new drones are far, far superior in the infrared spectrum.”

Drones are continually advancing in technology.

“The advancement from the one we purchased approximately three years ago makes our current one look like a toy,” McAdams said. “We are very excited about this leap in technology.”

Many of the council members appeared enthusiastic about the drones and wanted to know more.

“This sounds terrific,” said Councilman Jonathan Lafferty. “I would ask that when your FEOs are trained that we are invited for a demonstration. This would be a terrific item for communications to do a story and have a half-hour program on how they (drones) work.”

The drones have been used by other city departments.

“I will tell you, these drones are absolutely amazing,” said Council Secretary Mindy Moore. “I saw a demonstration when we had our police and fire event at City Hall.”

The Fire Department has let the Police Department use its drone in some situations, according to Moore.

“They (drones) can look up at a roof and know what the problem is,” said Moore. “I am totally in favor of this. I have talked to many firefighters. They have convinced me this is a fabulous tool.”

According to McAdams, the department has one existing drone and some trainer drones. It is the intent to put their existing drone in a first response vehicle and train fire engine operators how to use the new drones. The vendor has included training. Twenty additional people will be trained to operate the new drones, which requires a Federal Aviation Administration license for the operator to fly it up to 400 feet above the ground.

“So we will have an initial response and a longer-term response capability,” McAdams said.

The new drones will be used as a secondary response. This is because the new drones have double the flight time, up to 55 minutes, compared to the department’s existing drone, with a flight time of 20 to 25 minutes in warm weather, according to the commissioner.  The flight time decreases in cold weather to 10 to 15 minutes or even less depending on the temperature.

The drones come with a warranty period.

“If we crash it, there is a replacement included,” McAdams said.

As part of its safety features, each drone requires a spotter, someone to watch the drone while it is in the air. In addition, there is an audible warning when it begins to lose power.

“The fail-safe is the new drones will return to ground if the power drops down to a minimum level and you don’t bring it down. It will bring itself down. It will return to where it took off,” McAdams said.

There are restrictions on the drones, said the commissioner, and all the requirements will be followed under their licensing.

Included in the purchase will be software that will make video available to the public, which can be accessed on the department’s website, in case anyone wonders why they are flying over their home.

“We can assure the public we are not attempting to spy on them,” McAdams said. “It is an incidental flyover relative to what we are trying to do.”